The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
state in part that parties must
including, or must redact where inclusion is necessary, all
Social Security numbers,
names of minor children, dates of birth and financial
account numbers. E-filers must use extra care to make sure that
the PDF documents to be submitted to ECF are fully and completely free of
any hidden data which may contain redacted information.
error in redacting information is to use the wrong method to redact the
electronic file. Below is a partial list of methods NOT to
- Changing the font to white does make it look like the words
disappear, but they don't! Highlight (click & drag your mouse
over) the sentence below to see what can happen with this method
(the words are really there):
Mrs. Lincoln said that John Wilkes Booth
shot her husband.
- All word-processing programs (such as Microsoft Word, Corel
WordPerfect, etc.) retain a lot of hidden code (called "metadata") that can
contain revision history and other information. This metadata can
reveal anything that was contained in the file at any time, even text
that was previously deleted or changed, and even if the file was
re-saved. This is a useful tool for tracking revisions, but if this information is not
purged from the document, anyone can view this information, even after
it has been converted to PDF.
- Adobe Acrobat (the full version) has some graphic and "commenting"
tools which can black-out, cover over or remove sections of text.
The edits these tools make can still be removed by anyone to reveal the text underneath.
- Ink-marking or using semi-translucent tape or paper to cover areas of a document
to be scanned can still sometimes show enough information for someone
to see what was assumed hidden. Especially if that same data
repeats a number of times across a document.
The court does not profess to be experts on file metadata, and we do
not endorse any specific method to "sanitize" a document. There are
a number of consulting and software resources which specialize in
redaction of data if you need further information, but we do offer some
examples of ways to ensure that your documents may be redacted as you
Word-Processing File (short version below):
The best way to redact your document is to make sure that the source
contains no unwanted text or data to begin with. One way is to use a
simple-text editor (such as Windows Notepad :
Start>Programs>Accessories>Notepad) to create the final
redacted version of the document. Notepad cannot save any hidden
code, since it only uses simple-text (.txt) format. This format can only
save basic text info (ASCII)
so if it's in Notepad, "what you see is what you get", and nothing more.
Here's how (we will assume for these instructions that you are using
Microsoft Word, the same instructions work for WordPerfect, WordStar,
In your original Word
document, replace all the text you wish redacted with the word
and/or do a FIND AND REPLACE of all the text you wish redacted.
Replace all instances of "John Wilkes Booth" with
REDACTED]", "JWB" or whatever you deem fit. Be careful that you
do this for all instances and for all variants of the text you need to
redact (if you do a find/replace for "John Wilkes Booth",
it will not
replace "John Booth" or "John Wilkes Booth's"
or "J. Wilkes Booth" because those phrases are totally different to the
Save this as a new "temp-redacted" version, then...
Copy all the text from Word
and paste it into Notepad*:
Select all the text in
(type Ctrl-A, or click Edit=>Select All)
Copy all the text in
(type Ctrl-C or click Edit=>Copy)
Past all the text into
Start>Run, type notepad, click OK.
To paste, type Ctrl-V or click Edit=>Paste into
Notepad. This will remove all hidden code from the document, but as
you will notice, it will also remove most of the formatting (page
numbering, tabs, justification, paragraph numbering/bullets,
bold/italics/underlining, fonts, etc.). If you now PDF this
Notepad document directly from within Notepad, the PDF file will
contain only the info you see within Notepad and nothing more, so
it is totally safe.
Save this file in Notepad
as the "text-redacted" version. It will now be a text
If you must reformat the
document (usually you will), then you must re-open the "text-redacted" version back in
Word because Notepad can not do any formatting. This is
fine to do, but you MUST only do so in a BRAND NEW BLANK FILE!
Do not place the text from Notepad back into the same Word
file that it originated from. Here's how:
Save and close the
In Word, select
File>Open, then open the "text-redacted" text
You may then reformat the
text however you need and save you work as the "final-redacted"
Be sure you do not change any text, just the formatting.
This Word file you
to PDF and all it will contain is only the text and formatting you see
on your screen. Convert/Save this file as the "PDF-redacted" version and
The "text-redacted" and
"temp-redacted" versions may now be deleted (and should be).
nutshell... (short version)
Find & Replace all the text
to be redacted in your original file and save it as a "temp-redacted"
Copy all the text from the
"temp-redacted" version and paste it into Notepad, save this as the
"text-redacted" version and close it.
Open the "text-redacted"
version in your word-processing program, make any needed formatting
changes, PDF this file and efile it.
Clean up the temp files -
Redacting a Scanned File
(tiff, jpeg, gif, etc.): This is a little more tricky since
you are modifying an "image" or photo of a file and the data which
contains that image may not be fully removed or destroyed using common
software tools. Check the support documentation of the software
you use to manipulate graphics (such as Photoshop, Paint, etc.) to find
if their tools are sufficient to redact a document. You may also
want to consider printing-out the document and using
method 4 below.
Redacting a PDF File
(scanned or converted): This is the most delicate and
difficult to do correctly. Adobe
Acrobat (any version) by itself can not redact a document using
any of the the built in tools. There are plug-ins (add-on
software) for Adobe which
can do this, such as
Redax. You may also want to consider printing-out the document
and using method 4 below.
Document: Before scanning the document:
Cut-out (literally) all the
text to be redacted and properly dispose of (shred) the clippings.
This method will always be 100% effective.
Use opaque (100%
impenetrable by light; neither transparent nor translucent) tape or
paper to cover over the sections to be redacted. Do not use
plain-paper as the scanner may pick up images through the paper. Even
some black paper may allow some light reflection - so be careful.